This American Horror Story review contains spoilers.
American Horror Story: Apocalypse Season 8 Episode 4
The scenes of domestic bliss that open the episode are, in their shocking AHS sort of way, wholesome. It’s the upbringing that Michael Langdon never got during his time with Constance and the revolving door of nannies she provided him with. She made home-cooked meals, she had conversations with him over the dinner table, and she’s even able to get Michael to pray. Granted, he’s praying to Satan to give thanks for his meal, but at least the boy is showing a little gratitude. The charm doesn’t end there; when we go back to Miriam and Michael’s time together, it’s clear that she loves the boy, and that he loves her like the mother he’s no doubt always wanted.
Even the presence of Cordelia Goode and her witch counsel aren’t enough to derail that sweet moment. The bond between a boy and his mother is one that even magic can’t break, and the surprise appearance of the witches to resurrect his dead is only a slight inconvenience. After all, he’s killed them all once, what’s to stop him from doing it again?
Coven was not my favorite series of American Horror Story, but it was one of the show’s better ones and from the first bitchy comment flying out of Madison Montgomery’s mouth, I am reminded why Coven is a fan favorite. The appearance of the witches immediately injects life into the series, and even when the show follows a group of warlocks that we’ve never known, there’s immediate tension and chemistry between the group that betters anything we got with the mismatched group of survivors pre-Halloween.
The teachers of the Hawthorne School For Gifted Young Men (I’m not sure if that’s the title of the school or just a Myrtle Snow joke) have an immediate, lived-in chemistry with one another. It’s always nice to see Cheyenne Jackson on screen as chain-smoking Snape-type John Henry Moore, but it’s the expansion of the cast that has been doing the ensemble proud since the beginning of season 8. I’ve written about my enjoyment of Leslie Grossman in her expanded role, but newcomers like Behold Chablis (Billy Porter brought over from Pose) and Grand Chancellor Ariel (Jon Jon Briones, doing brilliant work after being welcomed into the Murphy troupe post-Gianni Versace) keep all the scenes of Michael being trained in magic captivating. The four warlocks (joined by the always fun BD Wong) have an instant smoothness to their interactions, as they feel like characters from a Coven spin-off that never happened.
To the warlocks, Michael is the thing that they’ve always wanted: the Alpha, a warlock powerful enough to challenge The Supreme and end centuries of domination at the hand of female witches. The warlocks are powerful, but as Cordelia says later in the episode, testosterone is a known inhibitor of magical powers and the three women immediately dismiss any chance of Michael being on their level of power, forcing him to do something extreme to get their attention. To get the attention of the warlocks, he shatters an abusive cop’s limbs, and then makes his head explode like Scanners. To get the attention of the Supreme, he does something she cannot do. He rescues Queenie from an afterlife of playing bridge with James March.
It’s a full credit to all the actors involved in the council meeting that it works. Tim Minear’s dialog flies back and forth with a crackle. The men protest, and the women are quick to put them in their place as second-class citizens, too blinded by tradition and history—as well as fear—to give Michael the shot at Supreme-hood that the men believe he is deserving of. It echoes real-life politics, just with a gender flip. Cordelia is patronizing out of a fear of leading a lesser warlock to his death. Myrtle is openly hostile towards the whole meeting, with every line out of Frances Conroy’s mouth dripping with naked disdain. Even Zoe keeps her mouth shut, falling in line behind her Supreme’s dismissive, haughty attitude.
When Ariel calls Cordelia a scared bigot, the line hits hard. The witches are so used to the status quo they’re put out by the temerity of the warlocks to even call them to a meeting, let alone to discuss the possibility of The Alpha being a true phenomenon. When Ariel backs it up with evidence that she abandoned the only black witch to an afterlife stuck in the Hotel Cortez, it stings like a slap to the face, and leads us to the surprise Hotel crossover I did not expect, with the added benefit of being so on-the-nose to the current political climate as to have impact far beyond the simple comedy of Myrtle cracking jokes and the warlocks unifying in the face of oppression without actually putting up too much of a fight publicly. While Michael decides to show that he’s the Alpha by doing the things that the Supreme could not, I have no doubt that James March (Evan Peters, having a lot of fun with that great accent) would not approve.
I think part of the reason I am so glad to have the Coven witches back is due to just how artistically they’re shot. Not that the show doesn’t lean artistic anyway, but tracking shots of the witches walking in slow motion, garments flowing majestically behind them, always work; that Michael’s approaching strides mimic this—in much the way his powers mimic that of a true witch or warlock—is an impressive touch from director Sheree Folkson. Her performers play their parts without pushing it too far. Myrtle is very much Myrtle, and her disdain for the warlocks is matched only by her disdain for airline food. Cordelia is too cautious, burned by the loss of Misty, and narrow-minded (presumably a trait she got from her mother). The warlocks buy in because Michael is their best chance at equality with the witches, rather than continued existence as the weaker sex.
Sure, it’s over-the-top, but it’s in American Horror Story style, and none of the warlocks abandons who they are in the process. Wong and Porter are just impressed by his abilities. Ariel sees this as a big opportunity for their kind, pushing the political envelope. Moore is the lone voice of reason—maybe Michael is too good to be true—but willing enough to go along with things just because he’s been pushed around a little too much, or is biting his tongue out of solidarity with Ariel and the rest.
That seems to be Michael’s greatest power. It’s not that he can reach through mirrors and take books off shelves, or turn a room so cold that it nearly freezes someone to death, but that he knows what people want and can give it to them. He’s a perfect son to Miriam (perhaps the only legitimate relationship he’s had). He’s the Alpha to the warlocks, possessing skills beyond their own. He’s humanity’s savior to the survivors in the bunker. He’s a seductive figure to Gallant and Madison, who he rescues from a hilarious personal hell. He’s a rescuer to Timothy, Emily, and Queenie, freed from an eternity of besting March at every possible card game.
Of course, there comes a point in Michael’s game that his subjects realize that they’re being played. For some, that comes faster than others. I can only imagine what he’ll be in for once the witches unite their powers against his own, but for the moment, as Cordelia Goode passes out into the dirt of Southern California, Michael Langdon has the upper-hand. This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but with gender politics.
Read and download the Den of Geek NYCC 2018 Special Edition Magazine right here!